WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Iraqi politician most associated with the discredited prewar intelligence that has the Bush presidency in turmoil visits Washington this week as he maneuvers for advantage before Iraq's Dec. 15 elections.
Ahmad Chalabi, Iraq's deputy prime minister, is a former U.S. golden boy who for years as an exile helped organise opposition to Saddam Hussein through the Iraqi National Congress, which was funded by the United States.
He was taken into Iraq by the American forces, along with an armed group of supporters, as Washington tried to build a new power structure in the weeks after the 2003 invasion. But he soon fell into disfavour, targeted with allegations that he betrayed U.S. secrets to Iran.
The wealthy Chalabi proved himself to be a remarkable political survivor.
His talent for networking and building alliances with the powerful Islamist leaders of the Shi'ite majority helped get him named deputy prime minister earlier this year, with special responsibility for Iraq's oil industry.
Though he lacks any mass appeal, some U.S. diplomats even cite the secular Shi'ite as a possible compromise candidate for prime minister in a coalition government.
Chalabi's visit will almost certainly provoke more debate over President George W. Bush's conduct of the war, which has contributed to a deep dive in his public approval ratings.
The visit comes days after Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis Libby, was charged in the investigation over the leaking of a CIA operative's identity and as the Senate Intelligence Committee revives a probe into prewar intelligence failures.
Chalabi is to meet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and address the pro-Bush American Enterprise Institute on Wednesday, among other meetings and appearances.
With the Iraqi election so close, Bush will not meet Chalabi or any other Iraqi officials. Many Iraqi officials have visited Washington in recent months and Chalabi will be treated the same and meet with "appropriate counterparts," National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones said.
The national assembly to be elected in December is charged with appointing a four-year government and would be able to make changes to the Constitution passed last month.
Chalabi recently broke with an Islamist-dominated Iraqi coalition and announced he intended to follow a more secular political course.
A former Iraqi exile, Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress were a major force behind the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the intelligence -- now dismissed as seriously flawed -- that accused Saddam of developing weapons of mass destruction.
TIES WITH IRAN
His ties to Iran helped estrange him from the Pentagon and other U.S. supporters. He denied the charges of passing on U.S. secrets.
Chalabi visited Tehran at the weekend and met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other senior officials to discuss the Iraqi elections.
He said last week of the visit to the United States that it showed there was no "wall of ice" between him and the Bush administration.
The White House, describing how the U.S. visit came about, said Chalabi told Treasury Secretary John Snow he would come to Washington in the near future and Snow offered to meet Chalabi if his schedule allowed.
The statement, by the National Security Council's Jones, suggested Chalabi would meet Snow, but Treasury sources said Snow may be out of town.
As deputy prime minister, "Chalabi has a wide-ranging portfolio of responsibilities, including economic policy, essential services and infrastructure and the budget," Jones said.
The United States and Iraq have many important issues to discuss regarding development of Iraq's economy and Iraq's dealings with international financial institutions and groups holding Iraqi debt, he added.